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My Generation Takes HIV for Granted

June 2, 2011

Kali Villarosa

The topic of HIV came up in my ninth grade health class this year. As one of my classmates wrote the letters H-I-V on the board, my teacher asked if anyone knew what these letters stood for. A few hands quickly shot into the air and, someone stated: "Human Immunodeficiency Virus." Nodding his head, my teacher turned back to the board and began furiously scribbling statistics and facts about HIV/AIDS, things that we had all heard before. It was not until my teacher turned around and said,

"You better write this down because there is going to be a test," that people actually took out paper and pencils and begin copying the notes.

Suddenly a boy in the back of the room picked up his head and asked, "If someone with the virus sneezes on you, does that mean you get AIDS?" The room exploded with laughter as if that was the stupidest thing they had ever heard. But it soon quieted down when it became clear that he was completely serious. My teacher calmly began going through the ways the virus can be transferred: vaginal secretion, blood-to-blood contact, semen, and breast milk.

Sitting there in my high school health class, I was surprised by how little my peers knew about HIV. We were writing down the facts being thrown at us in order to do well on our next exam, but the disease didn't plague us in the way it haunted those who came before us.

My generation takes HIV for granted. For many of us, it's not as personal as it was for our parents and others who watched loved ones die from it.

In health class we also learned how to protect ourselves from sexually transmitted diseases. Despite the warnings and reminder "to use a condom every time" no one seems to be following the rules. A very popular show among my peers is "16 and Pregnant." The title is pretty self explanatory, but the show involves girls having unprotected sex and having to deal with getting pregnant at a young age. Those girls could just as easily be getting infected with AIDS. And even as we learn that exchanging blood spreads HIV, we live in a world obsessed with young vampires. The Twilight series, a huge teen phenomenon, is all about a bunch of beautiful blood-sharing creatures. Is this supposed to be a metaphor for HIV? If it is, it's over most of our heads. What we see is the thrilling fantasy of teen love. The main character in the series even ends up getting pregnant, thinking that she could have unprotected sex with a vampire without consequences. Yet again we are exposed to the matter of sex, pregnancy and known consequences, but for most, a breathtaking vampire seems worth the risk.

HIV doesn't feel like it kills. I know people who are living with the disease, and they seem fine. They take their medication and function like everybody else. Magazine advertisements for HIV drugs show happy couples going out to lunch or riding bikes. None of these advertisements show someone who is sick or even dying from the once deadly illness. My cousin has HIV. I've known her my entire life, but just recently learned that she's been living with the virus. She looks and acts like everyone else, so I never would have guessed if I hadn't been told. I have not yet had a chance to discuss the disease with her but I would like to. I want to know how she lives, how she feels, and what medications she takes, because I don't want to be one of those people who take HIV for granted.

Kali Villarosa is a 14-year-old Brooklynite completing her freshman year in high school. She enjoys writing, reading and playing soccer.



This article was provided by Black AIDS Institute. It is a part of the publication Black AIDS Weekly. Visit Black AIDS Institute's website to find out more about their activities and publications.

See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Viewpoints on HIV Prevention for Young People
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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Lisa Marie Albert (North Carolina) Thu., Jun. 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm EDT
What a wonderful article. Thank you for writing this and for sharing your thoughts and a perspective from your generation. You seem to have a level head about HIV, STDs, and pregnancy, and I hope you use it to spread the word to your friends. Your comment 'Despite the warnings and reminder "to use a condom every time" no one seems to be following the rules.' should be a wake up call to many parents out there who are raising young teens. Many young teens are now having sex, and parents/guardians should consider this when they choose how to approach sex education with their children. Even if they decide not to follow the safe sex methods, at the very least they should be educated on how to do so.
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Comment by: Jack F. (San Francsico) Wed., Jun. 15, 2011 at 11:58 pm EDT
I'm a 56 year old man in San Francisco living with HIV at least since 1988, maybe 10 years longer. I've seen more friends than I can count die from AIDS, and still, even with the meds... Well, they don't work for everyone. Some people have horrible side effects. HIV still kills.

And some people can't get the pills. They're expensive! Very expensive, maybe costing thousands of dollars a month. That pushes up the cost of insurance (if you have it) or public health (if you can get it). ADAP is a federal program to pay for the medicines for HIV, but administered by the states. A lot of states, with cutbacks in health care, now have waiting lists for people to get onto ADAP. Unable to pay for the pills or to get them through ADAP, people are getting sick and dying.

You probably wouldn't guess I have HIV as I look like a normal, healthy 65 year old... yeah, I'm only 56. HIV causes the body to age faster. We're just finding that out. We're just finding out a lot of things about long term effects of the disease -- and these drugs -- now that some of us are living long enough to see it. Trust me, even if you end up a "best case scenario" like me, you don't want this.
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Comment by: jim (boston) Thu., Jun. 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm EDT
I enjoyed reading your article. It can be difficult for those of us who are older and went through the years of HIV Hell to see the disease as your generation sees it. What I often find when I talk to young people is that they have been hearing about HIV all their lives and think they know all about it, but are actually more than a little bit fuzzy on the details. I have been living with HIV for over 20 years and if you saw me you would think there's nothing wrong with me, but that would be wrong. It's a difficult message that can seem contradictory. HIV no longer has to be a death sentence for most people living in the developed world. You can have HIV and live a long, vigorous, happy and meaningful life. Nevertheless, having HIV is no picnic. It is a lifelong sentence to pills, side effects, worry and discrimination. I manage my disease in a way that the world doesn't see the downsides. I keep in shape and for a man my age I look damn good (I don't care how conceited that sounds). You don't see the fatigue or the drug side effects. You wouldn't know that most days I can't leave home until afternoon and some days I can't leave at all because I'm tethered to my toilet. These are things I deal with privately. I urge you to talk to your cousin. Make it clear that you are really interested and not just being nosy. I think you will find she has stories to tell you.
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